Last week, Sen. Joe Manchin blew up talks on a climate bill that had been running for over a year. As one former aide to President Obama put it, “It seems odd that Manchin would choose as his legacy to be the one man who single-handedly doomed humanity.” Except he did. And the magnitude of that action is still hard to get past.
As Meteor Blades wrote last Friday, there really should have been no great surprise at Manchin’s actions. After all, he has proved to us who he is again and again. Manchin isn’t some ignorant backwoodsman unaware of the effect of his actions, or someone who doesn’t understand the seriousness of the climate crisis. He understands. Which makes it worse.
April Siese has given a good set of actions that can be taken even without Manchin on board, and Joan McCarter has given the absolutely correct answer that the best response to Manchin is electing more Democratic senators, so that Manchin never again appears as more than a footnote in connection to any issue.
But before we move on, it’s worth another look at the scale of what Manchin has done. Because thanks to this single man, there’s a good chance that millions, and possibly billions, or people will die. All so Joe Manchin can keep pocketing $500 a year on a contract to sell the dirtiest coal possible.
On Monday, the United Kingdom hit the all time record for the highest temperature anywhere in that nation. That record lasted almost 24 hours until it was broken by a full degree on the following day. Across Europe, a wave of staggeringly high temperatures has buckled roads, derailed trains, snapped electrical cables, and killed more than a thousand people. The heat and dryness has triggered a wave of fires across the continent, bringing the kind of disaster that has been ravaging the American West for the last decade to the other side of the world. In London, more buildings burned on Tuesday than on any day since the height of the Blitz in World War II.
In Africa this week, Catholic bishops met in Tanzania to appeal for relief from a series of ecological disasters spurred by the climate crisis, include droughts, hurricanes, fires, and desertification of formerly green lands. Those disasters are not just causing deaths and poverty directly, but driving wars over natural resources. They begged for the world to listen to the “cry of Mother Earth and of the poor” as in some areas of Africa crops have now failed because of heat and drought three years in a row.
In India and Pakistan, temperatures this year reached 124° (51°C) as thousands perished and water systems failed in the heat. Millions suffered in literally unsustainable heat as those trapped inside the death zone declared “we are living in hell.”
The climate crisis isn’t some abstract threat facing future generations. It’s here. It’s now. It’s affecting the world right this minute in ways that will put populations on the move, place political systems under unprecedented stress, and drive what’s left of the world’s ecological system to the edge of a cliff. It will kill people. Not inconvenience them. Not cost them a few more dollars at the pump or require them to buy new light bulbs. Kill. Them.
It already is.
It’s not fair to blame all this on Manchin. Some share of the problem falls on all of us who drive, consume, and utilize the benefits of a fossil-fuel economy that has dominated the globe for two centuries. But not all of us are in a position where we could take effective action to do something about it. Joe Manchin is.
It’s not a matter of getting what he wants in the plan. For well over a year now fellow senators, congress members, experts, and staffers have worked with Manchin’s office, trying to tailor this plan to his every whim and demand. That didn’t help.
It’s certainly not about West Virginia. Manchin might have asked for anything to benefit his state. Move a federal agency to Charelston? No problem. Create a jobs plan that’s tailor-made to put money in the pocket of anyone who ever so much as glanced at a lump of coal? You got it. Robert Byrd, for all his many (many) faults knew how to play the game to help his state. Just like the climate crisis, Manchin understands well enough that he could score a big victory for West Virginia. He’s just … not interested.
Manchin's refusal to cooperate isn't a tragedy for Democrats, or a defeat for President Biden. It's a stick-in-the-eye to humanity as a whole; a scream of selfishness that firmly places his personal convenience over the most necessary needs of not the many, but the all.
And yes, certainly, the Republicans are to blame. Because if just one member would peel from their ranks and side with the future of the species, that would be enough to lower that rope into the hands of a drowning world. But that's not going to happen.
Manchin is the guy. He’s not the one person to blame for creating the climate crisis, but he is the one person in the time and place who had the opportunity to take definitive action that would, oh, save the damn world.
But he didn’t. He didn’t. And if what he wanted was to be remembered … he will be.
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